Hebrews 3:1-6 – Fix Your Thoughts on Jesus

Christ of Mercy
Byzantine Christ of Mercy, circa 1100

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (NIV)

It is hard to be patient. Perseverance is difficult. If the Christian life were all bunny rabbits and rainbows, there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of endurance – it would all be fun and easy. However, we know life is often hard and demanding. It requires effort and faith is the muscle that gets us through adversity. If unused, faith atrophies. Faith needs strenuous exercise to grow, and must be tested in adverse circumstances to mature.

The author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians because they were losing their grip of faith. The hard circumstances of the believers were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to their old ways of life, apart from Christ. They needed to refocus and set their thoughts on Jesus in the present moment.

When in the middle of situations, we neither asked for nor want, it can be tempting to view the past as “the good old days.” Yet, if you stop to think about it, you really know better. Because of your present struggle, the mind conveniently filters out all the crud from the past to make the bygone days look romantically better than they really were.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.

The author persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past. Moses is one of the most revered figures in Old Testament history. The writer of Hebrews acknowledges this basic respect for Moses, and goes beyond the glittery Mosaic-era reminiscing to remind the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is the Master over the house. Reality check, believers: Jesus is better than Moses.

What is more, followers of Jesus are the house. Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else. Jesus cares for and protects his house. It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we had in another city or town was better. That was then, this is now. Today we live in God’s house. Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the privilege we have living in God’s house.

When life is tough, daydreaming about a rosy past is easy. For sure, we can find all kinds of things we miss from previous days elsewhere. I have moved dozens of times in my life, and each place I have lived has a unique and special place in my life. Yet, trolling our personal histories, much like time-wasting gallivants on the internet, does nothing for the development of faith and perseverance.

Faith needs strengthening so that it is sustainable through the entire Christian life.

Just as a bodybuilder needs disciplined routines of exercise, so the Christian requires spiritual disciplines for a faith conditioning program which focuses the mind on Jesus. There are many spiritual practices, all which are wonderfully useful. Three of the most basic of those disciplines are: Scripture reading and spiritual reflection; personal and corporate prayer, and worship/fellowship. They are the Christian’s barbells.

  • Since God has revealed himself through Holy Scripture, we have the gracious privilege of reading the Bible to encounter the living Lord. I look at this not so much as reading but as taking a posture of listening to God. So, I read slowly and carefully, being alert to the Spirit’s voice.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)

  • Since God desires conversation with us, prayer opens us to a divine dialogue with the Lord. The Russian Orthodox monk, Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) describes it this way: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you.” With this kind of description, prayer is sustained much less by duty and much more by a desire to connect with God.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

  • Since God exists in the fellowship of three persons, our fellowship with one another spiritually forms us for the sake of blessing the world. As we share in the life of our Triune God in worship, we gain ability to live in healthy community and learn from each other. By opening our lives to both God and others, we discover newfound faith and learn to strengthen one another.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. (Hebrews 3:12-14, NIV)

In the present moment, right now, today, Jesus has a hold of you. Fix your thoughts on him. Today, Jesus wants to walk with you through your trouble – not transport you to the past. Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations that are in front of us. You are not alone. You can do this. We are all in this together.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future.  Today has its situations and problems.  Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow.  Amen.

Acts 2:42-47 – The Community of the Redeemed

Welcome, friends! I hope you sense the great communion of all the saints past and present during this unique time. Simply click the video below, and let us worship God together with glad and sincere hearts.

You can also view this video at TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click Filipino Choir for an 8,600 community voice expressing their praise to God.

Be safe. Be strong. Be spiritual. We’re all in this together.

The Community of the Redeemed

Devoted to Fellowship

It seems everyone has their own ideas about church – what it is and what it should be – whether one needs to be part of a local congregation, or not. No matter the view, we all intuitively know that:

We are created and hardwired for community.

The book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible presents Christian community as the primary means of becoming spiritually formed (Acts 2:42-47). And that community dynamic revolves around Jesus Christ. From a biblical perspective, Christians are not just any old community and not just some random benevolent organization. Christians together are the Church. They are the Community of the Redeemed, purchased from the slave market of sin with the blood of Christ, and devoted to knowing Jesus and making him known.

The early church possessed a group dynamic second to none. To be sure, they had their issues (e.g. antagonisms between Jews and Greeks, and bogus converts attracted by the power). Yet, problems are to be expected because the Light is always going to attract some bugs.

The early church consisted of new converts, having responded to the Apostle Peter’s preaching about Jesus. The transformation of these early followers of Jesus is nothing less than amazing. Many of these very same people had applauded the murder of Jesus. However, after Christ’s ascension, the people realized they were complicit in the death of Jesus and were cut to the heart and changed their minds. In a mass conversion, thousands embraced the grace of God in Christ. They quickly became a group of Christians:

Committed to learning more and more about Jesus; sharing their burdens and blessings together; enjoying communion and eating together; praying with and for each other, confessing sin and seeing new life and fresh spiritual health come in amazing ways.

Two major commitments of the new believers were the basis of the church: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship. Within that close fellowship were firm undertakings to eat and pray together. It is no wonder this curious bunch of people became noticed. After all, sharing food and providing prayer are compassionate activities. In a world starved for basic human kindness, the believers’ attention to the feelings and needs of others must have been a respite to the people around them.

Devoted to One Another

The Christians were hungry for instruction. They craved teaching and fellowship so much that they met every day. They gathered in the Jewish temple, and in homes. That reality of the church so long ago is a clue for the modern church that both large group meetings and small group gatherings are paramount for healthy spiritual growth and development. The gatherings of the early Christians were characterized by a deep engagement of Scripture with one another and of heartfelt participation in fellowship.

Mutual learning and sharing are for everyone – not just for a select few, or for extroverts.

That is why throughout the New Testament the metaphors used to describe the Church emphasize its communal nature. Church as the Body of Christ (biological metaphor), the Temple of God (building metaphor), and as the army of the Lord (battle metaphor) are all images that emphasize the redeemed community’s vital need to work, worship, and have a wide reach together. Indeed, true discipleship happens because of life together.

Metaphors are important; they pack meaning to ideas. So, it is important to be aware of church metaphors which emphasize only the individual and ignore the community. For example, imagining the church as a gas station where you fill up your spiritual gas tank when you’re running low neglects the community. Get a good sermon and some energizing worship and hopefully you will make it through the week to another service without running out of gas. For other folks, the church is imagined as a movie theatre – which disregards our contribution to community. The emphasis is on a place that offers an hour of escape, and leaving your problems at the door, with the goal of coming out of church feeling better than when you came in. Or some might imagine the church as a pharmacy – a place where you can fill a prescription which will deal with your pain in a slip-in and slip-out sort of way. Others might opt for imagining the church as a big box retailer – a place that “offers the best products in a clean and safe environment for you and your family,” along with a marketing model of evangelism: “Come to our church; we offer great service and great programs at a great low price.”

Please, don’t hear what I’m not saying. The church, without question, ought to serve and meet individual needs. And there are times and seasons of life when all an individual can do is consider their own spiritual and emotional health. The problem arises when we only ever function as independent persons who have no intention of being interdependent with others through living the Christian life together. The early church was faithful to learning the Word of God together. They committed themselves to fellowship with one another. They practiced hospitality. The new Christians prayed with each other every day.

The early church’s teachable spirit along with an emphasis on fellowship brought amazing results. Everyone was filled with awe of God. Everyone saw and experienced miraculous events. Everyone looked out for the common good of all. Everyone was glad and content with their simplicity of life. Everyone praised God. Everyone enjoyed the favor of the non-Christians around them. And, all this behavior brought numerous people to faith. This was a group who demonstrated deliverance from empty lives and presented an alternative way to live – a life filled with receiving grace and giving grace to others.

Stained Glass Window

To have that kind of group dynamic, the path the church took was a dedication to Holy Scripture and Christian community every day! Indeed, for healthy churches everywhere, and in all times, congregations continually exhibited courage and vulnerability. The word “fellowship” in Scripture (κοινωνία – pronounced “coin-o-nee-a”) literally means to be “yoked together.” Just as two oxen in a yoke must work together and plod forward being mindful of each other’s steps, so Christians have the invitation to yoke with Jesus and learn from him. Gentleness and humility are sorely needed in this polarized and often petty world we live in. So, the loving participation of fellowship is more than important and influential – it is vital and urgent.

The earliest Christians are portrayed as a group of people who intensely desired the apostles’ teaching and could not get enough of sharing life together as followers of Jesus. They were such curious learners and had such a depth of love and concern for one another that the poor among them knew no shame, and the rich knew no pride. It was a community where the uneducated felt open and free to discover more about Jesus, and the leadership graciously and humbly gave instruction that they had gained from being with Christ.

The type of community life which the early church had might seem to be an ideal which is not possible today. I wholeheartedly disagree. Because I myself have experienced such a group dynamic in my own life. In my college days there were dozens of us who became Christians in a short period of time, much like in the book of Acts. We were a rag-tag group of new believers who deeply hungered for spiritual food and craved the fellowship of one another. We met every day in dorm rooms and cafeterias, at the student union and in the library, and even sometimes in off-campus bars.

Everything we had we shared with each other – both our possessions as well as our hearts and lives.

And there was a solid two year stretch in which the Lord added to our numbers daily those who were being saved. We were attached to our Bibles as if they were a fifth appendage on our bodies. There was no separating us from each other. We needed one another’s Christian fellowship and spiritual support every day. In fact, we needed one another so much that we all ended up marrying each other so that the fellowship did not end.

Oh, my friends, how much we need one another! How much this old fallen world needs a yoke that is gentle, kind, gracious, and loving! Christian disciples are formed and shaped in the context of community. The collective conversations of our experiences and insights; the use of our hands and feet to work together; and, the sharing of our resources and of our time are all necessary for becoming spiritually mature in Christ and blessing the world. Confidence is gained through practice, and the spiritual practice of community is what’s needed.

May the group dynamic and the results of those earliest believers so long ago be our communal experience, as well, as we devote ourselves to the teaching and to the fellowship.

A Conversation with Jesus

JesusEmmausFriends

If we want to know what worship truly looks like, the story of the two men talking with Jesus along the Emmaus road shows us (Luke 24:13-35). Worship is not just us talking, praying, and singing to God. Worship is meant to be a conversation between us and God – a dialogue in which we hear from God and reply to him. Worship, then, is both God’s revelation and the people of God’s response. 

The term “liturgy” describes what we do in worship.  Liturgy is a Greek term that means “the work of the people.”  Every church has a liturgy.  All gatherings of believers have some sort of prescribed ways of moving through their worship. Liturgy is not only a reference to more traditional forms of worship.  Contemporary styled worship may have less liturgical elements to it, but it still has a liturgy of several praise and worship choruses (in which the people know when to stand and sit), and an extended time of preaching. 

After Christ’s resurrection, it was Jesus who approached the men.  In this divine movement of liturgy, God is always the initiator of salvation and worship.  If it were not for God approaching us, most fully expressed in Christ’s incarnation of coming to this earth, then we have no hope.  Humanity in the vice grip of sin needs someone to help. So, when we begin worship, it is God himself who starts the conversation.  

Liturgy bumper sticker

As the two men continued with their conversation, Jesus engaged them in the Scriptures. He went to the Old Testament and explained to them what it had to say about the Christ. They heard from God. To understand Holy Scripture, we too, need to walk with Jesus and converse with him. Liturgy exists to encourage a relationship between us and God. It is designed to create space whereby God and God’s people can be in a meaningful dialogue with each other. 

Maybe it goes without saying, this means we must listen well. We cannot listen well if we our minds are wandering, and our hearts are somewhere else. Sometimes we intentionally make our lives overwhelmingly busy so that we either cannot or do not have time to listen to God. We might create noise and keep moving because we are much too uncomfortable with silence. We may not want to hear what is in our hearts. Getting to the place of relaxing enough to listen can seem, for some, like a daunting task. This is not a plea for you to do more (i.e. “hear more, listen better!”). It is really giving you permission to do less so that you can enjoy a conversation with Jesus.  A good place to begin is to practice the Sabbath, and use the day, not just the morning, to connect with God. 

Jesus became known to the two Emmaus friends through table fellowship.  It was at the table that the two men’s eyes were opened to who Jesus really was.  This would not have happened unless they were in meaningful conversation with Jesus.  Then, after Jesus left them, the two men were inspired in their going.  They went out as witnesses telling others of what they had seen and heard from their conversation with Jesus. 

Road to Emmaus by He Qi
“Road to Emmaus” by He Qi

In this liturgical rhythm, this conversation between us and God, the good news of Jesus is presented.  God first acts by seeking and desiring fellowship with us; God sent his Son, the living Word, to restore the fractured relationship – Jesus is the divine Word who has accomplished the restoration between us and God.  This revelation, this realization of what God has done for us in Christ begs a response from us. We praise him for wanting fellowship with us. Having glimpsed how holy God is, we realize how sinful we are, and, so we confess our sins to him. God, in his grace, forgives us our sin and assures us of our pardon. In our gratitude for that grace, we joyfully listen and live according to his Word. And, so, back-and-forth we go, with the liturgy proclaiming the gospel to us in a divine dialogue that blesses both us and God. 

Now, if you think about it, all of life is liturgical. We each have routines, habits, and life patterns that shape how we get things done. For example, in the first year of marriage, my wife and I experienced a clash of liturgies.  Her family had their ways of doing things, and my family had theirs.  I quickly learned what a proper liturgy was for folding towels. 

A worship liturgy is neither only for Sunday morning nor to be always within a church building. We can deliberately build spiritual rhythms and spiritual conversation throughout each day in our homes, at our jobs, and throughout our daily lives. For example, our daily call to worship is when we wake up, realizing that we have been called into wakefulness to enter praise for a new day. My own personal daily prayer when I get out of bed is:  

“Almighty God, thank you for bringing me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. In all I do today direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ my Lord.”   

Morning Bible

As we go through our day, we can recognize sin when it happens, and be quick to confess it and accept God’s forgiveness. We can be intentional about hearing from God, by creating space and setting aside time for reading Scripture. When our heads hit the pillow at night, we receive the blessing of God in sleep, until a new day begins. 

Whatever way we go about it, we have the privilege of developing spiritual rhythms and habits of approaching God, listening to God, and responding to God. And, we need to acknowledge that something can trip us up in this attempt to live a godly life. There are other secular liturgies that vie for our attention and our hearts. We just might be influenced as much or more by a different competing liturgy. For example, the shopping mall’s version of liturgy is to gather shoppers and develop practices of buying in us.  If we shop because we feel that we would have a better life with new clothes, or more stuff, we might have a competing liturgy working in our lives. If we feel we need to shop because there is something we lack in our personhood, as if we are not enough, then we just might have another liturgy that wants our loyalty over God. 

The point is not to avoid shopping malls (you have to anyway!); the point is to realize that there are competing loyalties to God’s kingdom, and that we are to be shaped as followers of Jesus as our primary commitment in life.  Our lives are to revolve around the person and work of Jesus, and so we must intentionally cultivate liturgical practices in our daily lives and train ourselves to be godly. 

Christianity is not merely a system of beliefs; it is a way of life.  The kind of habits that we develop in that life will determine what kind of disciples we will be.  So, we must choose well the kinds of routines that we need in order to walk well with Jesus and carry on a delightful conversation with him.